Jan Groth (b. 1938) started as a painter in an abstract design language inspired by European post-war modernism. Quite quickly, in the 1960s, he switched to working with large rugs that were in clear dialogue with his drawings. All Jan Groth's tapestries between 1961 and 2008 were made in collaboration with Benedikte Groth.
In the dialogue between drawing and carpets, the design language emerged that has made Groth internationally recognized. The style he developed is based on simple lines, which admittedly have their starting point in the abstract forms he worked with in the beginning, but which freed itself from the description of form and became through its spontaneous, expressive course the very expressive element in Groth's art.
Drawing has always been the basis of this art, but it is the large rugs that have made Groth visible internationally. The international success is especially linked to the American reception. The world-famous gallery owner Betty Parson visited Groth in Copenhagen in 1971 and offered him an exhibition on the spot. She was known as the dealer of some of the great painters of the New York School, such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. By being exhibited in New York in such a gallery, Groth's work was seen by the discerning audience who applied to Betty Parsons gallery.
Jan Groth's rugs stood out from the 1970s renaissance of textile art. Well carried forward by the neo-feminist wave, colorful applications, narrative tapestries and large body-like textile sculptures made of hemp rope and nylon rope became important parts of the 1970s art scene. Groth's black carpets with a simple white line or combination of lines were much closer to the New York school's abstract expressionist painting, both formally and emotionally. The fact that his rugs could easily be understood as pictorial art by an audience that had developed a sensitivity and understanding of large simple image surfaces, with abstract signs and shapes, is probably the main reason for his success in America and in Europe.
Groth has lived and worked outside Norway for several decades. With an education from Copenhagen and Amsterdam and with 20 years in New York, where he was a professor at the School of Visual Arts, he is an international artist. His characteristic design language consists of a line sequence that is played out in a large area, whether it is the relatively large white sheet or it is the black textile. He works spontaneously and improvisationally. The images are abstract expressionist in that they are a direct expression of his body and mind movements. The impetus behind this way of making abstract art lies in the surrealists' use of automatic drawing in the interwar period. Inspired by Freud's theories about the subconscious and the importance of being able to express oneself uncensored and without post-rationalization, they tried to draw what was self-evident and pushed themselves forward when they first opened to the voices of the subconscious and bodily interior. In discussions about abstract art in the 1940s and 50s, this was linked to the autobiographical. In Jan Groth's the forms are so abstract that it is difficult to find any manifest autobiographical in them. It also draws on the movements that are not necessarily controlled by dreams, longings and fears, but by the basic erotic and biological life force that is expressed in new dance and performance art. In this sense, Groth's work expresses a sense of life, which can span between vitality and growth and discharge and tranquility.
The lines of Groth are the visualization of a voice that shows a structure that is related to walking, breathing and writing rhythm and singing. The course of the line alternates between lightness and pressure, between something delicate and almost invisible and something powerful and energetic. We find in the line visual representatives of the erogenous zones with which both the body, the plants and the language are blessed.
After a long and illustrious career, crowned by the retrospective exhibition at the New York Guggenheim Museum in 1986, Jan Groth began sculpting in the late 1980s. The sculpture goes further than the drawn and woven line in that it is both three-dimensional and hand-modeled, and that it must relate to, shape and grasp the space it is surrounded by. The sheet and the black loom are extended to a three-dimensional space defined by the wall and the floor the sculptures lean against. The sculptures are based on the same improvisational method as in the drawings, but he has simplified the line course to one line, which is given a break. With this method, the sculpture becomes a long bronze figure that can stand on the floor or a low plinth and lean against the wall. He has this mounting method in common with the minimalists, and it means that the association with the human body and the objects the bodies interact with in the real everyday space is strengthened.
Jan Groth's art is late modern. He cultivates the media he uses and he seeks a simplification and densification of the instruments. He has managed something that only a small number of significant artists manage, namely to create a design language that has both a framework of understanding and an international context and is a unique, inimitable character. His work appears with great clarity and distinction. The reason why they are inimitable is that they are so strongly based on the risk of putting down an alla prima line or shaping a soft material that waxed into a sculpture.
The order of magnitude and scale are extraordinarily important phenomena when it comes to the experience of Groth's art. The size of the sheet and the pressure of the line and the thickness of the drawing tool are related to the range of the hand and the arm. The rugs can be made very large since it uses a short-term transfer technique that is really only limited in size by the reach of the loom. The sculptures have a size that relates to the span between the human body and the gallery room format. Although the line and the sculpture themselves are slender, they have such a large charge and power that they require a lot of space in the room. The exhibition halls in the Lyche pavilion have a size and shape that fits very well with Groth's art. The assembly focuses on creating maximum power and interaction between the works.
In modern art, the demand and expectations of renewal and transcendence are important. Often it is just rhetoric when it is said that this and that artist has renewed his expression and reached a new stage. At Jan Groth, this expectation has been met in the last couple of years. In connection with the celebration of his 70th birthday on November 8, 2008, Rogaland Art Museum opened the large exhibition Traces and Spaces, Jan Groth's Influences and Contemporaries. The exhibition was part of Stavanger Kulturby 2008 and shows Groth's work in an international context. The exhibition, which like this one in Drammen is curated by Åsmund Thorkildsen, will be shown from 7 May at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter at Høvikodden.
In connection with the celebration in Stavanger, Stavanger municipality commissioned a free-standing monumental sculpture by Jan Groth, which was to stand by Mosvannet in the park by the Art Museum. With the tall bronze sculpture Stele for Stavanger, 2008, Groth created his first free-standing monumental outdoor sculpture. With the usual originality, he has with this work created a distinctive expression. The sculpture was unveiled in January 2009 and is shown in our exhibition in the form of a picture collage of the sculpture as it stands today and of the process of production in Pietrasanta in Italy. We also show the model of the sculpture in a bronze edition from 2008.
In addition to the challenge that lay in the order from Stavanger, Jan Groth has created his first monumental drawing at the exhibition in Drammen, drawn directly on the wall to be shown during the exhibition period and then painted over. The artist has called this work Drawing for Drammen, 2009, and it shows the intimacy of the drawing combined with the monumentality of the rugs. With this work - which measures a full 365 x 872 cm - Jan Groth has had to create an expression that goes beyond the framework provided by the sheet. With such an enormous surface to be drawn, the entire structure of the line course must be changed. We see the result in a vital expression where light shapes float in an elegant arc over the large white wall panel. An important point in experiencing Groth's work is to look at this both as a figure against reason and a figure in reason. The power and lightness of the line play must be experienced in relation to the invisible force field of the sheet and the carpet and the void. At Groth, we are talking about visual gravity, pressure and buoyancy.
A book was published for the exhibition in Stavanger, with the same title as the exhibition. The book contains a conversation between the director of Rogaland Art Museum, Peter Meyer, and the artist and a longer essay by Åsmund Thorkildsen. The richly illustrated book is sold at the exhibition.
Åsmund Thorkildsenmuseum director
Monday to Friday 11.00 - 15.00
Wednesday 11.00 – 18.00 (afternoon from 15.00 – 18.00 free admission)
Saturday 11.00 – 16.00 (free admission)
Sunday 11.00 – 16.00